We’re off to Anfield this weekend. There aren’t many players who have worn the colours of both clubs – so narrowing it down to five was easy. And no, we haven’t included Nick Barmby, because nothing tops this piece on him here…
1: Emlyn Hughes
The most successful Liverpool captain ever (three League titles, two European Cups, a UEFA Cup and an FA Cup during his time with the armband) who combined marauding runs with madcap tackling, all while berating referees when annoying and sporting one of the most famous shiteating grins when happy.
Four years after leaving Anfield, he joined City for the end of the victorious 1982/83 season, when City were clambering their way out of the Fourth Division, thanks to a long-time friendship with chairman Don Robinson, who had played rugby with Hughes’ dad. Nobody outside of Hull remembers the future star of A Question Of Sport playing in black and amber, though more remember his split loyalty in 1989 when, as a board member at Boothferry Park, he was asked who he’d be supporting when Liverpool were paired with City in the FA Cup.
2: Jon Otsemobor
Shortlived loanee who played for Peter Taylor in defence on eight occasions at the end of 2002/03, scoring three times. He left Liverpool, his boyhood club, in 2005 after failing to become a first team regular, and lived a nomadic existence afterwards, playing for six clubs without ever commanding a fee or achieving anything major, though he was popular at MK Dons. He retired, disillusioned, at the age of just 31.
However, even a long, spectacular, decorated and blameless football career would likely not have stopped him being most memorable for the time he was shot up the arse by a gunman during an attack in a Liverpool nightspot at the end of 2003. It’s with this everyone outside of Milton Keynes associates him.
3: Gary Ablett
Elegant left-sided defender who spent a short time on loan at City in 1986/87 before breaking into the Liverpool team the following season, aided by the sudden retirement of Mark Lawrenson, and having the gall to stay there, initially as a left back and then in the centre of defence.
He was evidently too good for the second tier when he came to City for a spot of experience, and his later form at Liverpool, which earned him two title medals and an FA Cup, proved this conclusively.
During this time he made a further appearance at Boothferry Park in the famous FA Cup tie of 1989, making an error that led to Billy Whitehurst’s equaliser.
Graeme Souness sold him to Everton, where he won the FA Cup again (he remains the only player to win the competition with both Merseyside clubs) before a lower profile swansong to his career and a delve into management. He died of cancer in 2012, aged just 46.
4: Péter Gulácsi
Prematurely balding Hungarian goalkeeper of dubious actual goalkeeping ability, signed on loan by Nigel Pearson in 2011 and sent back, 15 games and a knee injury later, to Anfield with nobody really benefitting at all from the move. Difficult to conclude he was any good, and it’s notable he never once played for Liverpool in five years there, sitting on the bench more than 50 times.
The knee injury was real although the way he suffered it, reacting long after the event in conceding a goal at Burnley in December 2011, led to accusations of feigning from livid City fans, and his reputation never recovered. City at the time had an aversion to signing permanent goalkeepers for the long term and Gulácsi was one such bit of short-termism that never worked. He is still only 26 (!) and now plays for Leipzig, sometimes…
5: John Welsh
History ought to be kind to Welsh, a battle-hardened England Under 21 midfielder who was superb when he first joined City on loan from Liverpool in 2005/06 under Peter Taylor, having been cast as the next Steven Gerrard, whatever that meant. He scored a fantastic brace at Coventry early on and then made his move permanent mid-season thanks to Liverpool, for whom he’d played ten times, having eyes on City youth product Paul Anderson.
The swap deal worked better for City, as Anderson didn’t make it at Anfield, and Welsh was a regular in a comfortable first season back in the second tier for City after 15 years away, but his luck changed when Taylor quit in the summer. Phil Parkinson disliked Welsh, tried to find numerous ways to avoid playing him, and would always make him a scapegoat in the event of a poor performance, which under Parkinson was a regular occurrence.
Phil Brown, on succeeding Parkinson, tried harder with Welsh but questioned his attitude, and given that Welsh wasn’t as tough as Ian Ashbee, he decided not unreasonably that there wasn’t room for two “hundred percenters” in the midfield, especially as only one of them always gave that one hundred percent. Welsh then went in for a stupid two-footer on his ex-Liverpool team-mate Neil Mellor in a game against Preston in March 2007 and broke his leg in two places, ending his season and leaving him unable to contribute to a fine escape from relegation under Brown who then wouldn’t give him the time of day for the remaining two years of his contract.
Welsh made the bench a couple of times when injury crises left Brown with no choice, but he didn’t play again for City, going on loans to Chester, Carlisle and Bury prior to his release in 2009. Ironically, he is now a fixture in the midfield at Preston.
There is little doubt he was a fine footballer, skilled and industrious, and with a bit more fortune and a lot more focus he could have been one of City’s enduring presences during a time of transition and progress. There are those of us, however, who’ll forgive him all his shortcomings just because he still looks like the grandson of CJ from The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin – and because we remember how insanely we celebrated when he scored his wonderful second goal at Coventry.